DEFENDING CHAMP BUHL IS TARGET AT NEW HAMPSHIRE INDIANAPOLIS, June 23, 1998 - In 1994, Robbie Buhl drove in a six-hour race in Bogota, Colombia. Some of the drivers had bodyguards. "They weren't concerned with showing they had...
DEFENDING CHAMP BUHL IS TARGET AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
INDIANAPOLIS, June 23, 1998 - In 1994, Robbie Buhl drove in a six-hour race in Bogota, Colombia. Some of the drivers had bodyguards.
"They weren't concerned with showing they had guns," Buhl said of the protectors. "At first, this blows you away. Then you get used to this being the way it is there."
On June 29, Buhl may need some bodyguards at New Hampshire International Speedway, because as defending champion there will be many other drivers looking to shoot him down in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League New England 200.
Buhl, 34, experienced two unlikely finishes at NHIS during the 1996-97 season that saw the IRL make appearances there a year apart.
The season started on Aug. 18, 1996, at the 1.058-mile oval snuggled in the lake country north of Boston. In that one, Buhl qualified 13th driving for lightly funded Beck Motorsports. He was eliminated in a first-turn accident also involving Jim Guthrie and Johnny Unser at the start and placed 22nd. Buhl drove barely a half-mile.
Last August, Buhl returned with high-powered Team Menard ... and won.
"I was coming back from missing the previous two races with a head injury," Buhl said. "It was a great feeling of satisfaction. In my case, although missing two races, the car had been sitting waiting for me. It was a great payback to my guys (crew)."
Still, it took some marvelous reflexes to achieve the victory, his first in an Indy-type car. He was dogging leader Eddie Cheever Jr. in second place coming off Turn 4 with only three laps to go. Suddenly, Cheever's gearbox broke, and his car slowed dramatically.
"I almost crashed into the back of him," said Buhl, still marveling that somehow he swerved and missed Cheever, who won the 82nd Indianapolis 500 last month.
"It was definitely instinct," he said of his quick turn of the steering wheel that allowed him to sweep by Cheever's faltering machine. "I was really surprised I didn't hit him."
That propelled Buhl, 1992 Indy Lights champion, into the lead. Since Italian rookie Vincenzo Sospiri was closely chasing him, Buhl had no time to think about winning the race until he flashed across the finish line only 64-thousandths of a second in front of Sospiri.
"I was concentrating so much it didn't sink in that I was going to win until I passed under the checkered flag," he said. "I was too busy protecting my lead."
Buhl, a graduate of New England College with a degree in business administration, had other nice experiences at NHIS, including setting a track record while winning the pole for the Indy Lights race there in 1995.
After his IRL victory at New Hampshire, Buhl ended the season with a third-place finish at Las Vegas, leading three times for 12 laps. This elevated him to 13th in the final standings.
"I wanted to pick up this year where I left off, but it hasn't been that way," said Buhl, who owns a Ford dealership in Danville, Ind.
He finally got a decent finish earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway as he claimed sixth place in his Johns Manville-Menards Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone at the True Value 500. This provided him with 29 points and advanced him to 15th in the Pep Boys IRL standings with 58.
"I really hadn't had any breaks," he said. "Texas was my first finish. I got down a lap. I don't know how. The bottom line was I wanted to finish."
Buhl started the season with a 20th-place finish at Orlando, Fla., where he was sidelined after 100 laps with mechanical problems. Then at Phoenix he switched from a G Force to a Dallara, but couldn't improve on his 12th-place start when loose bodywork and debris from a crash in front of him slowed his car.
Indy was the most discouraging of all. First, teammate Tony Stewart fell out after 22 laps in last place due to engine failure. Buhl drove 22 more laps before track debris damaged his radiator, ending his day in 31st place.
Buhl feels his fortunes may be on an upward swing and he can find the familiar victory lane at NHIS again.
He said that every 1-mile track has a uniqueness. The key at NHIS is to have a car that will adjust to changes that occur to the track during the race. He noted that a car's handling tends to get looser the further into the race it goes, and a driver must find a groove that is consistent to the track's moods.
"I hope to be in position to win," he said.
NEW ENGLAND 200 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The third annual New England 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying starts at 2 p.m. June 27.
Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will take place at 8:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. June 27.
Broadcast schedule: The New England 200 will be televised live on CBS at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. June 27. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28, with a prerace show starting at 1:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show of PPG Pole qualifications at 3:30 p.m. June 27.
*** Tickets: Tickets for the New England 200 are available by calling New Hampshire International Speedway at (603) 783-4931.